Just 24 hours after he began his 2020 bid with a low-key, early-morning announcement on a public radio station in Vermont, Sen. Bernie Sanders’s new campaign was rolling in $6 million of contributions — more than triple what his closest Democratic opponent, Sen. Kamala Harris, raised after her much-splashier campaign kickoff.
ABC News reports,
And despite the past year’s hunger for fresh faces to represent the Democratic Party, political observers say it’s no surprise that Sanders — a 77-year-old white man who’s held office for decades — entered the fray with a groundbreaking financial advantage.
Why? Because, they say, his biggest plus is that he isn’t new at all.
“His team is able to push a button and get $6 million immediately. That’s something other campaigns are going to be building from scratch,” said Zac Petkanas, a director on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and current Democratic strategist.
Sanders has worked hard to stay in the public eye — and at the top of voters’ minds.
He was a constant presence on the trail in 2018, campaigning for nearly 10 candidates in the last week of the midterms, not risking losing visibility in the lead-up to 2020.
And since running as the underdog in the 2016 presidential cycle, Sanders has continued to call for economic justice in the halls of Congress, while his organization, Our Revolution, has for three years been laying the groundwork to be the “next stop in the Bernie Sanders movement.”
Then, on Tuesday, Sanders showed the results of that groundwork: He typed an email and raised millions of dollars.
“It was foolish for anyone in the Democratic establishment not to take Bernie seriously before [Wednesday],” said Neil Sroka, communications director for the progressive PAC Democracy for America. “But it’s absolutely laughable to not take him seriously after the fundraising haul he was able to bring in, in a certain day.”
Sroka, like Petkanas, emphasized the power of in having more than 225,000 donors on Day One, especially when those supporters can turn into volunteers who can knock on doors, man phone banks or sign on for recurring donations.
He also warned the Democratic Party, which largely underestimated Sanders’s appeal to progressives in 2016, against making the same mistake.
“More than anything, the surprise that might exist about the numbers Bernie was able to post [Tuesday] is indicative of a chattering class in Washington that doesn’t understand the Democratic base and hasn’t understood it in years,” said Sroka, who was part of a group that urged Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run in 2016.
That loyal base outside of Washington — the quarter of a million people who donated to Sanders right out of the gate — proved Tuesday that they’re still hanging on.
The question that remains is if they’ll stick around now that they have a dozen other options, Sroka added.
“It’s important to keep in mind how early we are in this process,” Sroka said. Yes, Sanders raised a staggering amount, but the range of support for all of the candidates is expected to “ebb and flow and change dramatically.”
“Bernie Sanders is the front-runner in this race, there can be no doubt about that,” Petkanas, who knows a thing or two about running a campaign against him, said in a phone interview after Sanders’ fundraising hit the $6 million mark. “He’s clearly the candidate to beat right now.”
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